Cook Islands, island group (2021 est.
pop. 17,564), 90 sq mi (234 sq km), S Pacific, SE of Samoa; a self-governing
state in free association with New Zealand. It consists of 15 small islands
and is comprised of two main groups, the Southern (or Lower) Cook islands
Mangaia, Atiu, Aitutaki, Mauke, Mitiaro, and Manuae and Te-Au-o-tu) and the
Northern Cook islands (Nassau, Palmerston, Penrhyn, Manihiki, Rakahanga, Pukapuka, and
Suwarrow). The islands were formerly called the Hervey Islands. Avarua, on Rarotonga, is the capital and
administrative center of the group. In 2017 the islands' entire offshore
exclusive economic zone, some 734,000 sq mi (1.9 million sq km), became a
marine park. The Cook Islanders are Maoris, a Polynesian people, and are
largely Christians. English is the official language and Maori is also
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